Friday, September 3, 2010


The subject of humour over the airwaves was brought up by prominent blogger Tengku Mohd. Ali Bustamam on Facebook lately with good response all round. Tokcik took part too based on experience of the past to highlight the fact that we do have talents of calibre in Malay without resorting to run of the mill slapstick by exponents of the period since over 40 years back. This is the contribution:

The first and only "Johan Lawak Jenaka" Radio Malaysia 1967, Zainal Abidin Zain and the late Zainuddin Arshad from Gunong Semanggol did theirs stand-upper complete in suit and tie to beat the like of the slap-stickers from all over the country including the established lot in Klang Valley. Check it out, may be RTM-Radio still keep the recording in their ARCHIVE. Its a pity, the so-called expert then recommended not to continue with the contest!

The comment was crafted with facts laced with hidden messages. The lengthy first sentence was factual, while the next two may raise eyebrows and perhaps issue.

I was involved with the “Bintang Radio” contest by virtue of being the MPO of the Northern Region, Radio Malaysia (kindly refer to earlier postings on the subject) way back in the middle 1960’s. I was never musically and entertainment inclined but the MPO post entailed the incumbent to be one. I depended on many people to carry the day for the station in Penang, an endless list.

Zainal Abidin and Zainuddin were trained teachers (Cikgu) from the backwater of Gunong Semanggol, once well known for its Madrasah (religious schools). Both told me they keep their skits to while away the vast time they had to fill in the way out place and at the same time entertained friends who were bored for lack of entertainment after the school chores. Radio has limited frequencies and TV was just launched on the west coast of the peninsular. They got involved with the youth movement and naturally the local politics. As teachers (government service) they went UMNO way. The Islamic party was considered extremist those days. Of the two Zainal was more dominant

I came to know most of the comedians in the North through audition, the contest and eventually the weekly programme dedicated for them. It attracted the listeners and eventually they became regular features on local stage show, mostly entitled simply “Anekaragam” encompassing singing, musical performance, local dances (tarian) and “lawak” to add laughter to the show. The theme of the lawak over radio were mainly propagating the national policy and events of the day that touched the daily lives of the common folk. That became the standard on the stage too, for lacked of ideas perhaps but the majority continue to resort to slapstick which was easier to laugh at.

There were already established comedians in Penang itself then but none could compete with the immerging teachers groups in the contest. Eventually Zainal and Zainuddin emerged top to represent the Northern Region at the national contest later. Our back-up was runner-up another teacher’s couple Md. Noh and Turan Senapi who hailed from Kubang Semang, Province Wellesley, the mainland half of Penang. Their act was thick of Penang accent and made use of the Penang slang very well. In third place was the Sungai Petani, Kedah group of Mydin and friend who later made it to the local celluloid world and became celebrity of sort.

So the Northern Region was strong in that department then. The late Ismail Long being the producer handled them well. We roped in our Director the late Zainal Alam (later bestowed the datukship by the Penang state government for his contribution in the entertainment field) as well to assist grooming our candidates. Being a prominent comedian and singer (he sang the first election song of the country) in his heydays, he saw the potential in Zainal and Arshad and readily imparted his knowledge and experience to them. They were in good hands. We were not really surprised they won the contest hands down.

We were terribly disappointed the subsequent years the power that be in KL decided to dispense away with the competition on the advice of the so-called “expert” in house who propagated the existence in the first place. We in the northern region could merely speculate the arrival of the decision. The coming of the “new kids on the block” possibly may erode the popularity of the established lots in Klang Valley. Should the contest be continued I dare say that the northern region as well as the eastern region based in Kota Bharu, Kelantan would dominate with their fresh natural acts.

It was fated that all good things come to an end. Zainal was more interested in improving his career and life. Being a comedian was a phase in life for him while Zainuddin was content being a school teacher in the idyllic kampong surrounding. Many weeks before the famous 1969 General Election Zainal seek my opinion if he should accept Tun Razak’s offer of being a Perikatan candidate for the Semanggol constituency Perak State Assembly seat. He was among those selected as he was the UMNO Pemuda chief there. At that time he was toying with the idea towards getting a degree at the newly established Universiti Sains in Penang. After a lengthy discussion over the famous Penang “pasembur” we concluded that politic and election can come later, a degree those days were precious ticket to a better future.

So Zainal pursued the degree in earnest and well before the next election he was already a graduate. I was only monitoring his progress from afar by then as I was transferred back to KL. In the next General Election he became the candidate for the same constituency and emerged as one of the State Exco. By that time I lost touch with him, only hearing hearsay from mutual friends, but I did receive the Raya Kad regularly, indicating he still remembers. In later elections he won the Federal Constituency of Bagan Serai and eventually emerged as Deputy Minister of Defence and later Home Affairs. He was one of the tsunami victims of the 2008 elections.

I missed the durian from their family dusun in Bukit Gantang. My DOA for his, his wife Cikgu Asimah and family good health.

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